How to attract 69 million teachers?

11 February 2020


A teacher working with students in Puno province in Peru.
Gardel Bertrand/
A teacher working with students in Puno province in Peru.
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A teacher working with students in Puno province in Peru.

69 million new teachers – this is what the world needs to guarantee quality education for all by 2030. To put this into perspective, this means that nearly every person in Thailand today would need to become a teacher.

This is a major, if not near impossible, challenge.

“Teaching is facing a global crisis today with low attraction and retention rates because of poor working conditions and little room for professional growth,” says IIEP-UNESCO researcher Barbara Tournier and co-author of the new book Teacher career reforms: learning from experience.

“Governments need to think seriously about how to reinvigorate the profession so that today’s youth are able to once again see the merits of joining this crucial profession,” Tournier says.

In the new book, Tournier and co-author Chloe Chimier circle the globe to show how ten countries and cities are striving to make teaching more appealing through reforming the way teacher careers are organized and managed.

A global quest

From Colombia, Ethiopia, New York City, Scotland, and beyond, the authors explore different types of career structures and implementation, opportunities for promotion and professional development, and ways to make teachers feel more autonomous, valued, and supported.
The research found that new career schemes – which provide widened opportunities for professional growth via career ladders – can have a positive impact on teacher retention. 

What’s promising?

The research paid special attention to career schemes that have helped teachers progress in their careers while allowing them to stay in the classroom. “Having more horizontal promotion opportunities contributes to teachers’ willingness to stay in the profession. It also helps keep the best teachers in the classroom,” the authors write.

For example in New York City, teachers can choose to apply for different teacher roles that come with varying responsibility and pay. In Thailand, teachers report both horizontal and vertical mobility that leverages teaching to that nearly of law or medicine.

Teacher career reforms can be a welcomed change when they are well-designed and properly implemented, the authors say. Not only can reforms help regulate entry into the profession; they can help tackle corruption, diversify teacher career tracks, and encourage teacher support roles and collaboration.

Address basics first

When addressing teacher motivation, the research found that governments must first tackle basic working conditions. First, salaries must be attractive and aligned with comparable professions – as in Thailand and Scotland – before delving into different types of intrinsic motivators. Otherwise, the profession’s reputation could plummet, as was the case in Ethiopia where teaching is seen as a “last resort” because the low salary prevents teachers from meeting even basic needs.

Policy-makers and planners must weigh the benefits

Teacher career reforms demand significant financial, human, and technical capacities. Reforms can also be very complex and could do more harm than good, especially in resource-strapped countries.

Education policy-makers and planners must also pay careful attention to how they transition from one system to the next.

“Governments need to think carefully and evaluate their administrative capacity before launching into a major reform,” says Chloe Chimier, co-author of the book. “If the reform promises are not met because of technical, financial, or human resource constraints, the public could lose trust and jeopardize the whole reform.”

Lastly, the authors argue that teacher career reforms are most likely to raise the appeal of the profession where efforts are incremental and sustained over several decades.